Describes how cities’ investments in “green” innovations have the potential to create employment opportunities for low-income, underserved residents in urban areas throughout the U.S.; the resource specifically highlights Ann Arbor, MI; Austin, TX; Charlotte, NC; Denver, CO; Lincoln, NE; and Portland, OR. 

“There has been a surge of public demand in recent years for ’green’ innovations that help cities become more environmentally friendly, more pleasant to live in, and more resilient to the hazards of climate change.

These trends have spurred increased investments in expanding what have come to be called ‘green infrastructure’ initiatives across the country….[U]ntil now there has been little examination of the workforce needed to install and maintain green infrastructure systems. There is particular interest in understanding the potential to provide employment opportunities for low-income residents and other underserved populations of urban areas.

The research focused on occupations involved in the direct installation, maintenance, and inspection (IMI) of the green infrastructure (GI) and their first-line supervisors. This report describes the GI-IMI involvement of occupations whose work includes green infrastructure activities” (p.4).

“To complement the nationwide analysis in the main body of the report, a series of city profiles is interspersed to…highlight…Ann Arbor, Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Lincoln (NE), and Portland (OR)—as well as Detroit….The profiles describe key local drivers of green infrastructure, activities underway, and estimates of the potential green infrastructure workforce” (p.5).

The research questions include: “How many people work in green infrastructure? What are the jobs? What level of compensation do they offer? What are the educational requirements? How much potential is there for job creation as green infrastructure investments increase? How is the green infrastructure workforce within the six U.S. cities examined for this report similar to—or different than—that in the nation as a whole?” (p.4).

The first section of the brief “explores the current workforce, including educational requirements and wages. [The author] draws upon…labor market information from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as online job posting data…to understand characteristics of employer demand....The second part examines occupational projections to gauge potential job growth; these data are complemented by qualitative findings from an in-depth survey of green infrastructure contractors. The paper concludes with targeted recommendations for policymakers, employers, education and training providers, and other stakeholders interested in expanding GI-IMI job opportunities” (p.5).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The authors highlight several key findings: “[T]he evolution of some portions of the green infrastructure workforce is still in its early stages….The ability of [certain] projects to spur job creation hasn’t yet reached the level that many advocates had hoped. Further, many GI-IMI jobs are difficult to isolate using standard occupational codes and classification systems” (p.4). “[W]hile the workforce within large industries (e.g., construction, landscaping) that is uniquely devoted to green infrastructure activities is currently relatively small, it represents [an]…opportunity for people seeking good entry-level jobs with some advancement potential….[T]he barriers to entry are low, the wages are in line with other entry-level opportunities, and there are opportunities for career growth within each of the industries that employ green infrastructure workers” (p.5). “A potential vehicle for job growth is developing and promoting certification programs….At least 18 green infrastructure certification programs already exist, with content ranging from a single technology…to a broader focus on sustainable landscaping practices in general” (p.28). The authors also describe some of the green infrastructure priorities in the cities studied: “Protecting [Ann Arbor’s] Huron River, which provides up to 85 percent of the city’s drinking water and is a prominent feature of the landscape, is a priority in Ann Arbor’s efforts to expand green infrastructure” (p.8). “The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan outlines a set of aligned activities and policies, which include goals to improve or expand green infrastructure through urban forestry, community wildfire protection, integrated water resources, green streets, and parks and recreation” (p.12). “In 2011, Philadelphia launched Green City, Clean Waters, a 25-year program supported by at least $1.2 billion in public funds that aims to reduce stormwater pollution by 85 percent” (p.16). Examples of recommendations in the brief include: • Local communities should “educate policymakers, legislators, and government leaders about the broad array of community benefits of green infrastructure systems and the many types of workers involved” (p.32). • “The education and training community should [d]evelop clear career pathway maps and lattices that articulate connections between GI occupations and related professions” (p.33). • Employers should “serve as a public advocate for green infrastructure” (p.34). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)